Monday, August 31, 2009

The promise of a newspaper’s investigative spinoff

The latest edition of American Journalism Review has an in-depth piece on the thinking behind the San Diego Union Tribune's to spin off (though that's not the official phraseology) its investigative team as an independent nonprofit.

Rather than wait for the ax to fall on her four-person team, investigative editor Lorie Hearn did the deed on her own terms - terms that allow her team to publishing their work in the UT, but also getting the team off the publisher's books.

Rather than wait for the ax to fall on her four-person team, investigative editor Lorie Hearn did the deed on her own terms - terms that allow her team to publishing their work in the UT, but also getting the team off the publisher's books.

As part of the new relationship, the UT will pay the new nonprofit a substantial amount of money. In return, the UT gets first dibs on a specified number of investigative stories. But Hearn also has freedom to shop the story around to other media - and to develop her own philanthropic base. She already has one major donor.

Although the article does not make the connection, it notes that Hearn is negotiating with a representative of Platinum Equity, the Beverly Hills buyout firm that recently bought the UT and currently is bidding for the Boston Globe.

Can this kind of partnership help work, for both journalists and publishers on a broader scale? We'll see. But Hearn clearly sees the arrangement as a win-win.

"I'm not abandoning the Union-Tribune," Hearn tells AJR. says. "I am actually doing this because I want to help it survive."

This post also may be viewed at the Nieman Journalism Lab.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The For-Profit Case for the Nonprofit Model

There's a great new post today at Free Press's Save The News project. It's from Cindy House, formerly of the now-deceased Rocky Mountain News and now of the Rocky Mountain Independent. In it, she talks about the Independent's business model and why the founders chose the for-profit path.

House's post is worth reading because the three-pronged model she describes is truly innovative. The first two elements we know a lot about: advertising and memberships. The third is something not normally associated with newsrooms: The Independent plans to develop a consulting business that will offer "Web design, search engine optimization and editing/writing services to other businesses."

Although House doesn't use the word "subsidize" in connection with journalism, that's exactly what she's talking about. As she says, the owners hope the consulting business will "bring in much-needed capital." She adds: "We keep our expenses low so that whatever revenues come in go right back into content development."

This, ladies and gentlemen, is precisely the argument for the nonprofit model.

To review: Socially responsible journalism has been revealed as a public good because it cannot (or at least has not yet) found an online niche where it can be fully supported. The nonprofit model addresses that problem by opening the door to philanthropic development, as well as for-profit subsidiaries, including consultancies. The nonprofit mission is crystal clear: Whatever surplus may be generated goes right back into newsgathering.

Now back to the Independent. If I read House's post correctly, that's exactly what the owners hope to do.

I deeply admire the courage it took for these laid-off journalists to take control of their futures (not to mention the effort they are making in the public interest). But as a for-profit, the Independent someday is going to have to start paying taxes on its profits. And what if the consulting business is wildly successful, throwing off enough cash that some of the owners suggest that the board declare a dividend? Isn't that what for-profit owners are supposed to do? Yes, the owners agree now that profits go back into the newsroom. But at a for-profit, that might not always be the case. And changing course could prove painful.

There's more ammunition in House's post for the nonprofit model.

The idea of memberships, of course, is one that public radio stations have built development plans around for decades.

Also, House confesses that managing the business model to protect editorial integrity won't be easy. She writes:

(A)s journalists, this is tough for us to wrap our heads around. Traditional newspapers erect a “wall” between the editorial and advertising/business departments to prevent conflicts of interest. As we build up our consulting business, we will have to reshape this wall, perhaps by spinning off a segment that’s separate from the core news magazine.

Nonprofits have developed some fairly sophisticated governance procedures to manage these kinds of church-and-state divisions. They're not perfect, but again, they are designed to serve the mission, not the bottom line.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Monetizing Influence

For those who missed it, please see Phil Meyer's recent letter to USA Today about the perilous prospect of journalists and publishers attempting to monetize their influence without telling their readers exactly who they are.

Meyer, author of The Vanishing Newspaper, recounts the story of former Newsweek reporter Richard Wolffe. Wolffe hosted MSNBC's Countdown show after he joined the lobbying firm Public Strategies earlier this year, but did not disclose his new job to viewers.

Meyer cites this and the Washington Post's "Dinner-gate" case as examples of why journalism needs safeguards that help ensure editorial independence and credibility in a new and highly chaotic online age. He says:

If a professional such as Wolffe does not see a problem with being an advocate and a reporter at the same time, and if the publisher of the Post can be surprised by the uproar over selling access, then we are entering a strange new world. Without clear standards, journalism can't be trusted. If it can't be trusted, it won't be influential. If there is no influence, there is nothing to monetize.

This is doubly true for the nonprofit sector in journalism. As nonprofits attempt to build new sources of revenue through member events and corporate sponsorships, there is ever greater potential for conflict - or at least the potential for conflict. Transparency and great professional care will be more important than ever.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Bob Garfield Interview

In case you missed it, here's a link to my interview with Bob Garfield and "On The Media" about nonprofit journalism. I thought he did a good job of presenting the topic to a non-expert audience.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Whither, L3C?

With so many journalism luminaries focused this week on new business models at Aspen Institute's FOCAS09 conference, I was a little surprise not to hear more about the potential for the low-profit limited liability corporation, or L3C.

The L3C is a hybrid corporation that straddles the line between for-profit and nonprofit enterprise. Vermont last year was the first state to pass a law allowing formation of L3Cs, and Illinois this month became the most recent. Several other states are considering similar legislation, as is Congress.

Some have looked to the L3C model as a solution for newspapers because it allows a corporation to take on investors who are willing to accept varying rates of return - or possibly none at all. Foundations would be assured that their investment would qualify as a program-related investment - a crucial distinction under tax law - while socially responsible investors might be willing to settle for, say, a 3 percent return.

So where is the grand experiment in L3C newspaper journalism? We're still waiting to find out.

One of the big problems is that nobody really wants to go first, says Jay Hamilton, director of the DeWitt Center at Duke University. The concept remains fraught with uncertainties, not the least of which is whether newspapers can return to profitability after the recession.

Another, Hamilton says, is the cost of navigating the legalities of converting an existing corporation into something new. "Once a media organization has worked out how to transition to a L3C or be formed as a L3C, the next one would be cheaper since the first process would reveal what issues are likely to arise," Hamilton said in an email. He discussed the idea more fully in a recent article that appeared in the Raleigh News & Observer and other newspapers.

To get an idea of what an L3C might look like, have a look at an idea floated by Chuck Lewis in a recent Columbia Journalism Review article entitled "A Social Network Solution."

Lewis, founder of the Center for Public Integrity and the Investigative Reporting Workshop, writes the article from the point of view CJR calls "voices from an imagined future," looking back on current events from 2014. In the article, Lewis reveals his plans for what could become an ambitious L3C:

With all of this in mind, in late 2009, I began World Investigative Reporting Enterprises (WIRE), a global gateway to investigative journalism - a multimedia platform for the best original stories by some of the best journalists in the world, commissioned by, reported, written, edited, and published or produced for WIRE. The privately owned company includes investors who are socially committed to this work and who don't expect 20-plus percent annual profits - people I know personally and trust.

He then states that the enterprise would rely both on payment for content and donations from readers:

(B)y the end of 2013 profits were at 5 percent. By then, we had accumulated one thousand media partners throughout the world, using a syndication model in which content is exchanged for online page views, which WIRE then uses to sell advertising - with a share of that advertising income paid back to the partner site. Revenue is derived from advertising and reader donations. The latter has vastly exceeded our expectations. Thousands of civic-minded individuals became so excited by the historic nature of WIRE and the public service it provides that they became reader-contributors, what we call WIRE Associates - crowd-funding by credit card, not for an individual project or subject area, but for the entire operation.

Lewis said in an email last week that his plans to launch WIRE this fall have been postponed due to other commitments, including his work in forming the Nonprofit Investigative News Network this summer. Lewis hasn't committed to forming the enterprise as an L3C. But he adds: "Stay tuned!!"

Monday, August 17, 2009

The CUNY Nonprofit Model

One of the big debates about the nonprofit model in journalism is whether nonprofit news organizations should accept advertising. Some do. Some don't. Some are thinking about it.

Now, the City University of New York's New Business Models for News Project is rendering its own verdict: Nonprofits can't afford not to.

CUNY has developed financial models for three different types of news organizations that could serve a metro area of 5 million people if the daily newspaper ceased to exist. The models are being presented this week at the Aspen Institute's annual Forum on Communications and Society.

What may be most striking about the "Not-for-Profit News" model is the extent to which it relies on advertising as a source of revenues: In Year 3 of CUNY's model, advertising revenues account for about 50 percent of total revenues, up from 18 percent of in Year 1. (Total revenues would be about $2.8 million in Year 3, up from about $1.4 million in Year 1).

CUNY's models were based on exhaustive research, including the amount of foundation money that likely would be available in a given community. I have no reason to doubt their assumptions. But the model suggests that the new organization's ad department would be in overdrive from Day One, racing to push ad revenues from a standing start at $0 to a rate of about $117,000 per month.

The prospect raises a difficult question for nonprofits and would-be nonprofits: How can they keep a small newsroom in a small organization insulated from the pressures associated with that kind of metric? And is that possible when, as the CUNY model suggests, the Editor also is the CEO?

One of the supposed advantages of the nonprofit model is that it can help relieve news organizations of the financially driven biases that afflict for-profit newspapers. Given limited foundation resources and limited potential for membership development, it seems that might be a taller order than some had expected.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Bill Cahir Memorial Fund

A fund has been created for Bill's two unborn daughters.

Checks payable to the "Bill Cahir Memorial Fund" may be sent to:

Burke and Herbert Bank
c/o Mark Ragland
P.O. Box 268
Alexandria, VA 22313

Friday, August 14, 2009

Journalism's Loss: Bill Cahir, 40

My friend and former Newhouse colleague Bill Cahir was killed by enemy fire yesterday while serving with the Marines in Afghanistan. Bill was just 40, and his wife Rene is pregnant with twin girls. Their loss is beyond my comprehension, and he leaves behind a wide circle of friends, including me, who can't fathom the fact that he no longer is with us.

Bill's obituaries in Politico, Politics Daily and one of his former papers, the Express-Times, reflect what a truly exceptional person I knew Bill to be. In this space, I'd like to remember his work as a journalist, which is how I got to know him.

Though Bill was young when we met in 2000, he was definitely from the old school - ask good questions, get the facts, talk to the other side and then crank it out. This was the hard work of journalism, but it was especially hard from Bill's vantage point as a D.C. correspondent. Bill reported for a handful of smaller Newhouse papers in southern New Jersey and southeastern Pennsylvania, and he took orders from a half-dozen bosses. It could be maddening. But he did it gladly. He loved journalism as its own reward, and he brought a humility and self-discipline to his work that have become exceedingly rare.

These days, some question whether the ideal of journalistic objectivity is possible or ever was. To doubters, I offer Bill's body of work. The writing never was flashy. More often, it was methodical and workmanlike. But it did exactly what it was supposed to do: It gave his readers fact and context they needed to stay informed and develop their own opinions. What you saw was what you got - again, a rarity these days. He had a down-to-earth clarity about his mission as a journalist that I often used as a sounding board for story ideas.

That clarity took him places many of us then at the Newhouse bureau never could have expected. When the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, took place, we all filed our stories that day, as did Bill. But for Bill, the attacks became a calling beyond profession. Not long after that dreadful day, he decided to become a Marine. He enlisted at age 34, just months before the cutoff, and was off to Parris Island.

Bill stayed at our house for about a week after basic training, and we noticed the change in him. For one thing, he was louder - I guess from having drill sergeants yelling in his face. But he was ever more determined that this was the right path for him. And when we last talked at length, shortly before his announcement to run for Congress, I was surprised, but also not. He was unhappy with the conduct of the war, and he wanted to do something about it. This was Bill's new mission, and he was doing it his way - at the front line, working passionately and methodically.

My wife Susanna remarked today that after Bill's two previous tours in Iraq, we somehow assumed he would be safe. How could we? Maybe it was that determination and clarity of purpose - somehow we convinced ourselves that they would get him through. Or maybe we just didn't want to think about the hell that he had subjected himself to as a result of that determination and clarity.

Each of us is shaped by the people we meet and our experiences together, and a few are exceptional. As a reporter and as a person, Bill was one of the few. He showed us the value of being true to one's self and of living life with purpose and courage. That was Bill's gift, and I hope I'll carry it always.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Why NYT Co. Won't Give Up The Globe

I drive a 1996 Honda Civic, and I love it. Why? It costs me virtually nothing. It gets 30 m.p.g., we paid it off years ago, and I carry no collision coverage. I could sell it, but I won't. It's running great, and it probably will last several more years.

What does this have to do with the New York Times Co. and its plan to sell the Boston Globe? One of three bids being considered would draw on the nonprofit sector. But for all the recent talk in Congress and other places of converting newspapers to nonprofits, there hasn't been much action. A look at the bidding for the Globe in light of my experience with my Honda might help explain why the nonprofit model isn't working for daily metro newspapers - and why newspaper owners are choosing instead to go with the death spiral.

The Globe does cost a lot more than my Honda to operate. But the really big bucks - the $1.1 billion purchase price - is money long since spent. Just like the cost of a new car bought 13 years ago, there's no way to recover anything close to the purchase price. I can tell by checking the Blue Book value.

The execs at the NYT Co. no doubt are learning a similar lesson after putting the Globe on the market recently.

The offer from Celtics co-owner Stephen Pagliuca and Partners HealthCare chairman Jack Connors proposed a “civic approach’’ that would involve a nonprofit foundation to help fund and run the news operation, according to a Globe report. No word on the financial terms.

Another, from the Beverly Hills buyout firm Platinum Equity, proposes a payment of $35 million and assumption of $59 million in liabilities for the Globe and associated properties in the New England Media Group, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times.

At first, I thought the LAT's numbers must have been mistaken - the $94 million value of the bid is less than 10 percent of the NYT's purchase price in 1993. But Platinum apparently was able to buy the San Diego Union Tribune for $50 million. So assuming for now that's what the market will bear, Platinum's offer carries an implied message to the NYT Co.: We bet you can't make the Globe produce profits worth more than $94 million any time in the forseeable future.

If I were at the NYT Co., I'd feel a bit insulted - and I'd start looking at the Globe the same way I look at my Honda. Sure, I could sell it for a couple thousand dollars. But it's worth more than that to me, even in its depreciated, degraded state.

So here's the question: What would it take for the Globe to generate profits that would be worth $94 million in today's dollars? A scenario based on data from the NYT's most recent 10-K report might help us see the Globe from the NYT Co.'s point of view.

Let's assume the worst - that Globe/NEMG revenues, which were $523 million in 2008, continue dropping 12 percent per year, and that the cost of capital comes at a usurious Carlos Slim rate of 12 percent per year. And let's assume a short-run time frame of five years. Even then, the Globe would have to eke out a relatively meager profit of less than 8 percent per year to do better than the Platinum bid.

Would that require more cost cutting? Probably. But the cuts almost certainly would be kinder than anything Platinum would impose. Suddenly, if I'm at the NYT Co., keeping the Globe doesn't seem like such a bad option - which is probably what the folks at Cox decided recently when they pulled the Austin American-Statesman from the auction block.

And why wouldn't the NYT Co. sell to the local guys who want to go nonprofit? It's essentially the same reason I don't donate my Honda to charity. I'm not planning to quit driving any time soon. And though the Honda might die in the next year or two, it probably won't. So even if it gets a few more dings and the hinky passenger window stops working, I'll keep driving it. When the wheels finally do come off, that's when I'll take my tax deduction.

Monday, August 10, 2009

See You at the Nieman Lab

Starting this month, I'll be posting at least some of my reporting as a contributor to the blog at the Nieman Journalism Lab.

My thanks to Josh Benton and others at the lab for their confidence and support. I share the lab's interest in pursuing what works for journalism, and I'm looking forward to the collaboration.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Nonprofit Journalism: From Anomaly to Paradigm

You can’t win if you don’t enter. Isn’t that the old slogan for the lottery?

So it is in the world of nonprofit journalism. This is an exciting, historic time, and new nonprofit newsrooms are launching every month. Each one represents a huge investment of hard work and professional will.

But the lottery metaphor comes into play here: A lot of them - probably most - ultimately are going to lose. There aren’t enough foundation dollars, personal donations or advertising links for them all to survive. It’s going to be painful to watch as some really talented journalists ultimately are forced to do something else to make a living.

But some will survive. And they might change the world – or at least how we report on it.

Who am I to say? It's hard to be certain of anything these days. But I have spent the past five years following journalism nonprofits, and I've spent the past five months covering them like a beat. I’m working on a master’s in nonprofit management at George Washington University, and this summer, I wrote a paper that attempted to provide some context for what’s going on in the nonprofit sector of journalism.

The paper is about 7,000 words and has 61 footnotes. But rather than impose any of that on anybody other than my graduate adviser, I thought it might be of some use to report what I actually learned from the experience. Here goes.

What makes the nonprofit model so compelling in these times? It’s the economics of the Web. Given the infinite capacity to replicate a story at a marginal cost of nearly zero, there really is no money to be made in doing expensive, risky journalism like the kind that comes from investigative desks, statehouse bureaus and foreign correspondents. Economics forces socially responsible journalism into the realm of the public good – the kind of thing that we value together as a society, but none of us is willing to pay for individually.

The knee-jerk response to the problem of a public good is to tax everybody and have the government pay for it – just like national defense. But I count myself among those who thinks that it’s deeply unwise to have government supporting newsrooms that should be scouring the records of government and the people who run it. Government support might be fine for PBS and other broadcast. But when it comes to old-fashioned investigative reporting, the potential for political shenanigans is just too great.

That leads us to the nonprofit model, where private-sector creativity meets social need. The model fits neatly into a world where journalism is a public good because it has a different bottom line. Nonprofits measure their success not by the revenues and profits they generate, but by yardsticks such as how many people read their work, the educational value of that work and the impact it has on decision-makers.

The nonprofit model also lets journalists come as close as any human can to establishing an island of credibility in a online sea of misinformation, disinformation and too much information. I’ve heard it said many times that in the online world, transparency is the new objectivity. So be it: The tax laws require nonprofits to disclose their major donors, and the good ones are taking disclosure to greater levels than that required by law.

Are there flaws? Absolutely.

We’re already seeing some sniping among the haves and have-nots, especially when it comes to foundation funding. Foundations like big names, and they don’t like failure. So in these circumstances, it’s a lot easier to write a big check to the News Hour than to go through the hard work of checking out the bona fides of a local online startup. Community foundations can help here, but the deck is stacked against the little guys.

By the same token, there also is talk that one of the high-profile start-ups in particular is “too big to fail” – meaning that there will be pressure not to compete for resources, especially at the national level.

Then there is the issue of gray areas where existing nonprofits – most likely, advocacy organizations – will start getting into the journalism business. This might not be so scary, as I learned in reading David Westphal’s paper from USC on the role of foundations. He talked to the folks at Human Rights Watch, who do painstaking investigations of abuses – and view the rules of journalism as a sloppy substitute for the kind of work they do. Likewise, the Kaiser Family Foundation created an advisory board of journalism luminaries to oversee the work produced by its new Kaiser Health News. But would the National Rifle Association or the AFL-CIO be as judicious?

I do think that a lot of the problems with the nonprofit model can be overcome. A group of nonprofits got together at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Pocantico estate in July and began the Nonprofit Investigative News Network, which will address standards, as questions of scale such as handling benefits and joint fundraising. To me, the “Pocantico Declaration” was the surest sign that the nonprofit model in journalism has entered a new era. As I say in the title of my paper, it’s no longer an anomaly; it’s becoming a paradigm.

But one criticism has stuck with me. It came from Ted Gup, incoming head of the journalism department at Emerson College and the man who taught me my first journalism class 24 years ago at Georgetown (where they had only one journalism class). Ted’s take is that the nonprofit model could create a new universe of sacred cows while leaving some vital topics uncovered. If newspapers come to rely on content produced by foundation-backed newsrooms, they will cede their ability to make independent judgments, he said. “It’s not Darth Vader; it’s also not Joan of Arc,” he said. “But we’ve got to be on guard. I worry about the slippery slope.” How to keep from skidding into that unknown, I cannot say.

Every journalism nonprofit is different. But there are some clear patterns and trajectories in the nonprofit model that are emerging. Chuck Lewis’ Center for Public Integrity, founded in 1989, proved that a newsroom could be built and fully maintained on foundation support. But new entrants realize that they can rely on foundations only as a start. Many are looking to the NPR or Minnesota Public Radio models for sustainability – build relationships with readers, but also look for ways to expand those relationships, maybe even in ways that create for-profit subsidiaries. Building on that general framework, I see three types of nonprofits in the offing:

Level 1: The true-blue journalists. These tend to be the folks who decided to launch an online startup after getting laid off from a newspaper. They think that if they can just start pumping out some really, really good stories that they couldn’t get into print when they still had newspaper jobs, some wealthy philanthropist will recognize their genius and start writing seven-figure checks. I know this type well because I used to be one of them – though I never got as far as launching my own Web site. If you’re reading this and saying to yourself, “That’s crap, I know I can beat the odds,” please take it from me: ProPublica’s $30 million from the Sandlers was a lightning strike. Maybe there will be a few more like it at the state and local level, but don’t expect the money spigots to open wide just because you can report and write.

Level 2: The relationship builders. These are the folks who know that the key to sustaining themselves is building lasting relationships with readers – and teaching them to see value in the relationship, not just in the news product. That’s one of the main reasons, I think, that newspapers are having such a hard time with the idea of converting to a nonprofit model: Although the people who run newspapers know that many subscribers feel a strong bond with their product, at the end of the day, it’s still a product like a favorite beer. The harder thing to do is to show readers how journalism connects friends, neighborhoods, communities and, ultimately, a society. At that point, a donation takes on a whole new meaning – it’s a statement of a reader’s values and connection to the world around him/her. It’s nothing less than an affirmation of self. But again, that takes a lot of hard work – and even then, it might not be enough for the long haul.

Level 3: The value adders. These are the ones who get the relationship part, but also know that they need a solid business proposition to support what they’re doing. What does that look like? It takes finding an audience that recognizes the enormous societal value in investigative and watchdog journalism – and is willing to pay at least something to get it. The natural audience here, of course, is the lobbyist. To see what I mean, look at what venture capitalist John Thornton is doing in Austin, Texas. He’s building his nonprofit Texas Tribune on top of the subscription base of Texas Weekly, an online, subscription newsletter on Texas statehouse politics that he bought last month.

So what happens to daily newspapers? Some are having success partnering with nonprofits. The Washington Post, for instance, in one week ran three front-page stories with assists from ProPublica. But can the nonprofit model save any of them? I'm not so sure. It’s not that endowing a major newsroom would cost so much – it would; think billions – but the economics are forcing newspapers to dig their own graves. The assets of most newspapers have become so devalued that their owners do better to continue cutting staff and circulation just enough to eke out some profit. It’s a death spiral, but the gravitational pull is too strong to get out. When I think about the future of newspapers, I think about the freebie “Express” I am handed whenever I get on the Metro.

Will the nonprofit model save journalism? Maybe not exactly in the form that we know it today. But I think it can help - in part because the model also has its own gravitational pull. Back in 1846, a handful of New York newspapers realized they all were spending way too much money to have news couriered from the front of the Mexican-American War. So they got together and created a cooperative that today is known as the Associated Press, a nonprofit. The need to cooperate on some level is the same today.

I also see the the power of the nonprofit model in places where detractors might least suspect. Just this May, in a new article entitled "Hired News" in Reason, the leading libertarian magazine, author Tim Cavanaugh argued that the demise of newspapers isn’t such a bad thing because public relations professionals are taking over where investigative journalists are leaving off. He wrote:

Flackery requires putting together credible narratives from pools of verifiable data. This activity is not categorically different from journalism. ... Communications is a highly competitive environment, and it is becoming more competitive. Frequently the most valuable information comes out just because somebody wants to make somebody else look bad.

As I said at the time, this is an argument from the Stone Age. Cavanaugh in essence argues that if two people are able to throw rocks at each other, it's a fair fight, and that's all society owes its members. But the fact that he chose to make his argument in a magazine owned by a 501(c)3 nonprofit underscores exactly why society benefits from thriving alternatives to for-profit journalism. By its very appearance, his article proves that the nonprofit model is here to stay.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Death of Journalism (Gawker Edition)

For those who don't regularly read The Washington Post, it's worth a visit to the Outlook section and a piece entitled "The Death of Journalism (Gawker Edition)" by Ian Shapira. It's a first-person tale of how online aggregators siphon content from publications that pay people to do the hard work of journalism.

It's also a lesson in economics. Following on my own comments from Friday, this story shows exactly why socially responsible journalism that requires initiative or enterprise ultimately is rendered an unprofitable investment for the organization that produced it - and, again, why socially responsible journalism is becoming exposed as a public good.

What's worse is that when you read this story, you can see how the news-production model that has helped sustain our democracy for a century (I know I'll get an argument on that premise, but let's just assume it is valid) is crumbling by the day - and how some people who call themselves journalists are helping.

When Shapira relayed his conversation with the Gawker reporter, I was reminded of the timeless quote from Joseph Stalin: "When we hang the capitalists, they will sell us the rope."